In a bid to raise the profile and reverse the decline of these historic animals, the Royal Bath & West Show has introduced a new section: Great British Dogs.
“It’s very sad that 38 British dog breeds are now vulnerable or at risk of becoming vulnerable, simply because people don’t know they exist or don’t consider them fashionable,” says head of shows Alan Lyons. Indeed, according to the Kennel Club, many of these rare breeds, which might be suitable for people’s lifestyles, are being overlooked in favour of more fashionable – but perhaps less suitable – breeds.
It’s a worrying statistic: The six most popular breeds in the UK (Labrador, French Bulldog, Cocker Spaniel, Pug, English Springer Spaniel and the Bulldog) account for more Kennel Club registrations between them than the remaining 214 breeds of dog. So it’s a great feat to have attracted more than 15 of the rarest breeds along to the Bath & West Show to meet and greet visitors, and help them learn more about what these dogs have to offer.
So which dogs can you see at the Show?
Curly Coat Retriever
Claimed to be the oldest of the Retriever breeds, this is also the tallest. Its hallmark curly coat derives from the now extinct English Water Spaniel and the Poodle. This gives the dog a waterproof quality when retrieving ducks from water, for which it was originally bred. The first breed club was established in 1933.
Irish Water Spaniel
The Irish breed club was founded in 1890 although liver coloured water dogs with curly coats, top knots and rat tails had been known for centuries before that date. Although classified as a ‘spaniel’ it works as a retriever, particularly in water. Ancestors are thought to include the French Barbet, the English Water Spaniel and the Poodle.
Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)
The word Corgi is thought to be rooted in the Celtic ‘cor’ meaning dwarf and ‘gi’ – dog. Of the two types of Corgi, the Cardigan is thought to be the older. It has always been undocked, and was once known as the Yard Dog, because it measures a Welsh yard (40 inches / 102cm) from nose to tail. The Cardigan is the longer bodied of the two breeds and its front legs are slightly bowed; its short legs make it ideal for the job of driving livestock.
Both breeds were traditionally used as heelers, driving cattle by day and guarding them at night. At one time the Cardigan and the Pembroke were allowed to interbreed freely but in 1934 the Kennel Club recognised them as two separate breeds.
Welsh Corgi (Pembroke)
Slightly smaller and shorter than the Cardigan, with a smaller ear and straighter front legs. The Pembroke was traditionally docked, and since the docking ban some breeders have worked hard to produce natural bobtails. The Pembroke has always been the more popular breed, perhaps helped by the Royal patronage it has received since the reign of King George VI.
Unlike many terriers, bred for country pursuits, the Manchester Terrier was developed to keep down city rats in mid-19th century. Ancestors include the old Black and Tan terrier and the Whippet, making the terrier an efficient rabbit hunter.
In the early days owners cropped the dogs’ ears to prevent injury from rats or from fighting in staged contests which were popular at the time. However, the ban on cropping in 1898 brought a decline in the breed’s popularity: The pendant ears of uncropped dogs were off-putting to those who had known the cropped version.
Modern methods of vermin control also threatened the survival of the breed; by 1945 only 11 pedigree dogs were registered. Fortunately, since then they have grown in popularity both in the show ring and as a family pet.
Welsh Springer Spaniel
This red and white Welsh gundog was chronicled in Welsh literature in the Middles Ages and comes only in this colour. At one time it was simply called a Welsh Spaniel and it played a part in establishing the parti-coloured cocker spaniel. The breed was recognised by the Kennel Club in 1902.
Smooth Fox Terrier
The Smooth Fox Terrier was the first variety of fox terriers to be recognised, and was kept by hunts to dig out the fox when it went to ground. They could run with the hounds or were carried in saddle panniers by huntsmen.
The early dogs were often brown or black and tan – but a move to make them more easily distinguished from the fox led to the introduction of Old English White Terrier (now extinct), Bull Terrier and Beagle bloodlines, with their predominately white bodies.
The result was the Smooth Fox Terrier with its short back and long head. First shown in 1862, it was the most popular breed in England by the start of the 20th century.
Developed in the Scottish borders this breed gained its present name from Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Guy Mannering”, in which Sir Walter modelled the character Dandie Dinmont on a neighbouring farmer who owned terriers called Pepper and Mustard.
Local readers recognised the farmer and teased him with the nickname Dandie Dinmont – from that the terriers took their name. Furthermore, the colour of his terriers Mustard (sandy/brown) and Pepper (blue/grey) became the accepted descriptions of the breed’s recognised colours.
Its unique features; the weasel-like body and curving topline, coat with silky topknot, and large expressive eyes have made it increasingly popular in recent years. In 2014 the breed was appointed with its own tartan, the black and yellow Dandie Dinmont.
Thought to be a cross between the Welsh Corgi and the Manchester Terrier, Lancashire Heelers date back to the time when cattle were herded from Wales to markets in the Ormskirk area. Popular in that area long before Kennel Club recognition, it was known as the Ormskirk Heeler or the Ormskirk terrier.
It inherited its distinguishing thumbs marks on its front legs from the Manchester Terrier and the lowness to ground and heeling instinct from the Corgi. Lively, intelligent and long-lived it has gained some well-deserved popularity as a family dog.
The golden-Iiver coated Sussex is the rarest of the land spaniels. Developed in Sussex to work in dense cover it is low to ground and powerfully built with a thick protective skin to get through the thickest undergrowth. It is the only spaniel to give tongue (bark) while working, helping the handler to keep track of its whereabouts when not visible.
Fortunately, despite several periods of threatened extinction, the breed has made progress both in type and numbers in recent years.
When the Romans invaded Britain in 55BC they found the inhabitants already had a mastiff- type dog, huge and courageous and which defeated the Romans’ own dogs in organised fights. The Romans took some of these mastiff types home and used them for fighting wild animals in the Coliseum.
Once known as the Old English Mastiff, it was used as a guard dog, a gamekeepers’ dog, a hunter of wolves, and for bear and bull baiting. It was also used in the fighting pits until this was outlawed in 1835, which threatened the breed’s survival. Many were exported to the United States between the wars and by the end of World War II, just a single bitch remained in Britain.
Offspring from the US dogs helped to revive the breed post-war, and although they are still not numerous they have their devotees who aim to combine type and substance with soundness of movement.
- The Royal Bath & West Show will be held on 29 May – 1 June. Tickets are available from the website: bathandwest.com or by calling 0844 776 6777. Children – for the first time – can go free during the May half term, with a £3 discount on early adult bookings.
(Information courtesy of the Kennel Club)